Tips for College Grads Writing their First Resume

With graduation season upon us, newly-minted college graduates are getting ready to put their studies to use and enter the labor market—and their success of landing a job hinges on their ability to showcase their skills and experience to employers.

“New grads typically need help with their resume because all they are seeing is, ‘I have unrelated job experience: my internships don’t really count, as I wasn’t paid, and my classes are just learning foundation,’” says business coach Laura DeCarlo.

But they’re wrong. Many college students have picked up skills and expertise during their college careers that employers will find valuable, he says. “[They need to learn] how to show their transferrable skills or leverage that their knowledge was likely gained with hands-on projects, research and classroom practice.”

The right resume can make all the difference in a job search. “A new grad’s resume is a complex project that, when done right, can position the individual for the job he or she wants,” DeCarlo says.

Here’s a cheat sheet for graduates on what should and shouldn’t be on their resume:

Don’t Be Non-Specific.

Resumes need to be tailored for specific job openings, advises business coach Laura DeCarlo. “If you just list unrelated jobs and responsibilities, like grocery bagger, and just list your degree and perhaps your courses, you don’t give anyone a sense of how you can fit into the company or what you can actually do,” she says.

When listing completed courses, she recommends proving how the knowledge gained will benefit the employer and apply to the position.

“If you tell an employer you just ‘took these classes.’ then he or she can believe you know as little or as much as they want. It’s up to the job seeker to cross the bridge to the employer and show all that’s relevant.”

Do Include a Summary of Qualifications

Career strategist and marketing specialist Sue Campbell Jones recommends topping a resume with a summary of qualifications to peak a hiring manager’s interest.

She recommends including applicable skills, qualifications and characteristics in this section that demonstrate their ability to do the job.

“I often ask college students to tell me what initially attracted them to their major, as this can provide clues to personality characteristics that are well in line with the positions they're targeting. These may include communication skills, time management skills and analytical abilities.”

Don’t Get too Fancy

Resumes should be appealing to the eye, which means sticking with easily-readable font and formant and selecting an appropriate font size. Recent college graduates should also keep their resumes to a single page, the experts advise.

However, applicants for more creative positions in more creative industries like marketing or advertising might have more leeway with their resume presentation.

Do Use Strong, Appropriate Verbs

When it comes to describing your experience don’t shy away from using power verbs like,  manage, coordinate and assess.

The Northwestern student affairs division recommends students emphasize transferable skills and making sure the most-relevant information is at the top of a resume.

Do Showcase Your Networks

Jones recommends students list their involvement in community service activities, organizations or professional associations.

“Not only will this look good on the resume and act to solidify the candidate’s current career path and goals, but these can also be great places to network,” she says. An added bonus: many professional associations offer a student membership at a reduced rate.